By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Highway and safety officials don't expect double-trouble when the state begins overhauling the twin bridges on Interstate 76 in western Mahoning County later this month.
In fact, they expect little in the way of snarls, despite the high number of vehicles that cross the bridges each day.
The bridges, which span Lake Milton, are getting their first major overhaul since they were built nearly 35 years ago at a cost of $12.8 million.
"They've been repaired, but not to this scope," said Ohio Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Richmond.
Widening: ODOT plans to replace the superstructure of both bridges, Richmond said. That includes tearing up and replacing the deck and its supporting beams and widening the concrete piers that jut out of the lake to hold up the bridges.
The piers must be widened because the bridges will be expanded to make them 12 feet wider, Richmond said. The additional width will provide wider shoulders, which should provide better access for emergency vehicles during heavy traffic.
Widening the bridges will also allow for maintenance of traffic flow during construction, Richmond said.
The bridges also will have new 42-inch-high concrete side walls that are designed to help prevent trucks from rolling into the lake in the event of an accident, said Eli Razo, ODOT project engineer. The current bridges have standard guardrails.
Safety features: Razo said the higher concrete walls are becoming a standard safety feature on highway bridges.
The project originally called for renovation and rehabilitation of the existing steel beams. Instead, the beams will be replaced with new ones made of concrete because it's a less expensive option, said Razo.
He said concrete is fairly new technology for bridge beams, but the state is confident they will be as durable as steel ones. The cost savings will be about $3 million.
Diverting traffic: Installation of traffic control devices should begin this week and construction should start the following week, Razo said.
Richmond said the eastbound bridge will be closed and all traffic will be routed across the westbound bridge, which will have one lane for eastbound traffic and one lane for westbound traffic. The lanes will be separated by concrete barriers.
Widening of the piers under the eastbound bridge will be the first phase of the project, Razo and Richmond said.
Both bridges will be reopened for two-lane traffic in November and remain that way during the winter.
"That's just for safety," Razo said.
Future plans: In March 2002, the crossover pattern will be reimplemented so all traffic is again directed across the westbound bridge while the deck and beams of the eastbound bridge are replaced.
When the eastbound bridge is finished in late summer or early fall 2002, the westbound bridge will be closed and its deck and beams replaced. The eastbound bridge will have two-lane traffic each direction during that time, using the wider shoulders as driving lanes.
The crossover system was used when the bridge decks were replaced in 1981 and worked out well, Richmond said.
Even though I-76 is heavily traveled, Razo said he does not anticipate much in the way of traffic backups during construction. The crossover setup was used last winter when ODOT did some work to reinforce the westbound bridge in preparation for the project and there were no traffic problems.
"The worst day was Fridays, going east, and it really wasn't that bad," Razo said.
Lt. Brian Girts of the Ohio State Highway Patrol post in Canfield agreed.
"There might have been an occasional half-mile backup, but on a regular basis we had no problems at all with the bilateral setup" during the winter project, he said. Girts doesn't expect any serious traffic tie-ups this time, either.
Emergencies: If there is a crash or other emergency that requires closing the bridges to all traffic, vehicles will most likely be routed along state Route 534 to Mahoning Avenue and state Route 225, he said.
Walter Duzzny, Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency director, said he will ask that the state impose a reduced speed limit on trucks carrying hazardous materials across the bridges during construction.
The lower limit won't be popular with truckers but should help prevent a crash in congested traffic, he said.
"The traffic volume out there is just absolutely phenomenal," Duzzny said. "I think for the public's reassurance we will have to do something about the speed limits."